August 15, 2011

Did You Bring Your Passport and Your Ticket?

No, these words were not spoken to me at the airport but – surprise – at the bank. I was on another foreign currency quest of mine. This time for US-Dollars, which are needed to pay for visas when travelling to Zanzibar. Lots of them. $360 total, to be precise. It was the day before our flight, and, as Noisette had predicted, I was extremely busy running around getting everything organized. Impatience having her birthday party that afternoon didn’t help. So between buying donuts for her class and picking up the cake for later, I thought I’d drop in at the bank, where I was stopped cold by above question.

Honestly, I’m glad that after one and a half years of living in South Africa, I still stumble into these situations like the first expat off the boat, otherwise I wouldn’t have any good stories to tell you!  Can you see that this is another Expat Tip in the making? When going to the bank for foreign currency, make sure you bring your passport AND ticket! That’s right, you have to p rove that you’re actually planning to go to a foreign country before you are allowed to get foreign currency. From your very own account using your very own money. I almost felt transported back to East Germany circa 1988.

All this just to get $400
So there was nothing for me to do but go home and get my ticket. Even though nowadays everyone travels on e-tickets, they still wanted an actual printout. I’ve learned not to argue these things. Loud arguing and demands to speak to the branch manager were ensuing from the adjacent cubicle while I packed away my passport and left. By the time I returned, a huge line had formed, and then it took me another 30 minutes to fill out the required forms. All my contact details on one form, front and back, and some kind of affidavit that I hadn’t yet used any of my allowance of annual foreign currency. I didn’t even bother to ask what that meant. My passport was copied for the 26th time and filed away in what I can only imagine must be a huge room of overflowing file cabinets, all my forms were stamped with gusto, a fee was deducted, and I finally had my US-Dollars. By this time I almost felt like kissing those sweet green bills representing a freer and less complicated society.

And you know what? If you’ve read my previous post you will know that I could have avoided all this. Three trips to the bank, standing in line, a stack of forms filled out, over R200 in fees – all completely avoidable if I’d had the presence of mind to put two and two together and just hold on to those Euros I had from Germany, which surely they would have just as readily accepted in Zanzibar as US-Dollars. Eish!

But then again, it has been a blessing for Joburg Expat. Just like American comedians bemoaned the departure of President Bush, me and my blog would experience a sense of loss if the ways of South African bureaucracy suddenly turned efficient and – God forbid – logical.


Patricia said...

This is very un usual. In Kenya there are so many forex bureaus and exchanging money isnt such a big deal at all. Plus no commission charged at the forex bureaus so the bank is the last option. I'm getting a bad vibe abt S.A and to think we are moving there very soon.....I'm lost.

Sine said...

Well - on the bright side, it gives you great stories to tell:-). Honestly, I wouldn't fret. One reader just told me Investec is a great bank and they deliver currency to you. Not sure about the fees. I have a friend who is South African living here again after living in Kenya, would you like me to hook you up with her for some advice?

W. A. Jeffrey said...

The allowance limits should not have applied to you as you were not a local. But that wouldn't be the first time somebody in authority didn't know the rules. Of course, since the govt. changes them every ten seconds who can blame them? Did you know that the traffic act that you graciously offered a cut/paste copy of awhile back has been amended 23 times since 1996? And some were just to fix typos and omissions from prior amendment within the same year?

By the way, wacky currency regs these days come from two sources: one old and one new. The old one is the longtime fact that governments rigorously guard their power to control the nation's money supply. The new one is a result of 9/11 and its aftermath.